Patrice Riemens on Wed, 30 Jul 2014 18:37:18 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Ippolita Collective, In the Facebook Aquarium Part Three,

Ippolita Collective, In the Facebook Aquarium Part III

The Freedoms of the Net

On-line revolution and couch activism: between myth and reality (section
#1, concluded)

The best organized repressive regimes also know how to make use of the
same methods as their dissenters, something that yet again demonstrates -
if there was still any need to do so - that technology is not neutral. For
purpose of censorship, the Saudi government has launched many DDoS attacks
- one of the 'weapons' popularized by Anonymous [**]. Philosophy has been
banned for years in the Sheiks' universities, since philosophy makes you
think with your own brain. Western philosophy is forbidden in Saudi
Arabia, furthering that country's schizophrenic position as privileged
purveyor to Western governments on one side, and largest reservoir of
islamist fundamentalism on the other [and largest funder of the latter -
tranls]. In 2006 was started by Saudis to discuss philosophy,
sharing forbidden links and resources which were nonetheless reachable
on-line. Being in Arabic, it had also many non-Saudi followers. But the
(government's) surveillance being better and better managed and performing
made it easy to trace every visitor (suspect). The Saudi government first
blocked access to Tomaar from Internet nodes within its territory. Users
responded by going for anonymization software and censorship-bypassing
proxies. An arm races ensued. The Saudi government launched DDoS attacks
against Tomaar's server in the United States. Nowadays, is dead
on the Web [9]. Dissident sites and activist webpages have equally been
DDoS-ed in/from Burma, Byelorussia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Russia.
The resulting feeling of powerlessness (among dissidents) is heightened by
the fact that Western government, while extolling Internet freedom and
condemning censorship and repression, still back authoritarian governments
through economic, financial and military agreements. This only serves to
strengthen such governments at the expense of the very dissidents the West
claims to support. And then one should not forget that democratic
governments too practice censorship, including by way of DDoS attacks, to
prevent their own citizens to access allegedly subversive contents [see
note **].

All said and done, even if social media run by American private
enterprises do play the role Western media claim they do, the triumph of
democracy is unlikely to be the outcome of corporates-owned instruments.
In well-oiled dictatorships like China, Facebook access is blocked not so
much because the hierarchs don't like its (politics of) radical
transparency, but because that social network is viewed as a product of
American imperialism. The much  criticized collaboration between Google
and the NSA in 2010, the accusation leveled by Google about attacks by
Chinese hackers, the fact that Google also openly pulled out of China in
protest because of the censorship measures it was asked to implement, all
this did not very much help either. And who could blame China for
perceiving these firms as spies in the sold of Washington? In China, the
local Facebook, Twitter and Google clones are directly controlled by the
government, unlike in the United States where 'gentlemen agreements' are
passed at boardroom level and where collaboration takes place in secrecy.
The laboratories of the future 's consensual dictatorships will much
improve this arrangement, nobody will worry any longer worries about being
on Facebook and Twitter: everybody will know everything about all smut
going on, public or private - and nothing will change. Anyone will be
allowed to become part of the spectacle. Since everybody will be
accomplice in banality and obscenity, nobody will evermore decry a
scandal. It is even very likely that in a near future there will be full
cooperation between social media enterprise and governments in the realm
of surveillance infrastructure [***]. In the case of democratic regimes,
preventive censorship of users and removal of contents under institutional
pressure will, for instance, be clothed as defense of the commons
(interests) against hate-speech, whereas under totalitarian regimes,
private corporations have zero interest in defending dissidents'
anonymity, since that will attract the ire of the people in power, while
such users as a rule do not generate any advertisement profit of

Inciting internauts to be (more and more) transparent, a push that goes
together with the feverish fragmentation of (on-line) messages and the
underlying decrease of attention (capacity) triggers extremist, simplistic
posts and scuttles any attempts at formulating more complex arguments.
Gravity's law rules here without mercy: the fall of a single tree sounds
far louder that the whisper of a whole forest growing. And the mass media
amplify even more this 'law of gravity'; catastrophes score higher on the
view-o-meter than good news. Raunchy spectacle attract more public than
time-honored theatre plays. After all, what people want is easy
entertainment, not commitment-demanding activities. Two millennia ago,
Roman emperors already knew the answer to social strife, captured in the
famous formula /panem et circenses/ (bread and games) which well
summarizes their politics: gladiators went at each other's throat, wild
beasts were butchered, together with slaves, common criminals and the
regime's opponents. Today's globalized arena is played out in television
newsreels, but also on blogs, Youtube clips and tweets. It is a comfy and
dis-embodied way to live reality in real time, without any effort
whatsoever, without the dirt and the blood, skimming over tragedy with the
eyes only. Far away raging tsunamis are explained in plenty of details,
while next to nothing is told about what happens in our immediate
vicinity. If it's not on Google, it doesn't exist and if you leave no
tweet behind, you aren't worth anybody's attention. Even when voyeurism
turns into political indignation the protests hardly bear consequences,
morphing into impotent and vacuous demands - and that even before
repression kicks in.

Hundred and forty characters on a SMS or a microblog do not offer
sufficient space for the exposition of productive politics. This is
equally a non-goer on a Facebook group, and even so on a blog, despite the
fact that the latter offers more opportunities for interaction.
Conversely, thanks to these formats, sectarian, racial hatred inciting
messages propagate lightning-like, as can be shown with the SMS-borne
terror campaigns against ethnic minorities in Nigeria, targeting
Christians in 2010; in Kenya, 2007, against     Kikuyus; and in Australia,
against Middle-Eastern (-looking) people in 2005. Somalian pirates
co-ordinate their operations on Twitter, while Mexican drug traffickers
brag about the murders they perpetrate on Youtube. Sharia law extolling
blogs are used by muslim fundamentalists to threaten the unbelievers,
while neo-nazis worldwide have found in social media the tool of choice
for the dissemination of their crazy gospel. Western (ev)angelism in favor
of Internet freedom might well take notice of these development instead of
celebrating couch activism [10]. The world is far more complex than will
be shown the mass media, driven by the feverishness of the spectacular and
spurred by advertiser' money. Yet, just as freedom of speech is praised
sky-high - a generic freedom, devoid of concrete content, and of a true
knowledge-sharing methodology - at the same time  authorities demand more
and more latitude to regulate and suppress content by those who do not
partake in the same world-view, with a race to the bottom in the matter of
interdictions as a consequence.

(to be continued)
Next time: Orwell, Huxley, and the Sino-American model (section #2)

. . . . . . . . . . . .

[**] Meanwhile, since 'Snowden', we know that Western government and their
'agencies' carry out 'everything that God forbids' in the sphere of
malicious hacking with gay abandon. In the Netherlands, the bloodhound
(Fred Teeven) that passes for the minister of Justice ("Security and
Justice" - in that order) even wants to enshrine the practice in law.
[9] - and still is (-transl)'s misfortunes serve as case study on:
An excerpt of Evgeny Morozov's The Net Delusion on the issue is available
here (Googlebooks):
[***] The future is now!
[10] The (Italian) artistic duo /liens invisibles/
has created a tool especially geared towards couch activism, /Tweet4Action
("Don't Miss the Action. Augment Your Reaction"):
The project especially targets protest 'commitment-free' campaigns. Or, as
they put it: "Discover how to set up the most radical street
demonstrations and take part in them without any of the annoying risks."

Translated by Patrice Riemens
This translation project is supported and facilitated by:
The Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences
The Antenna Foundation, Nijmegen
( - Dutch site)
( - english site under construction)
Casa Nostra, Vogogna-Ossola, Italy

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